Gripping debut Expats keeps reader on toes

College-educated Kate is a wife and mother.

She met and married Dexter in Washington, D.C.,10 years ago.Heis a kind and gentle up-and-comer in banking information technology security; she’s a bit unsettled about domestic life and expectations, but bearing up, keeping busy with childcare and writing position papers for the U.S. State Department. Suburban house, barbecues, plenty of income, real comfortable: what Kate always thought she wanted.

The Expats by Chris Pavone is about Kate and Dexter Moore. They’d always talked about living abroad for a while, experiencing new cultures, traveling, exposing the kids to something more than white bread North America. One day, Dexter comes home to announce that he’d been offered a job with a bank in Luxembourg. They’d be moving, for at least a year, in three weeks. He’d be commuting beginning right now; she’d be making the arrangements.

With this abrupt news, along with the edginess Kate had developed over middle-class life, Pavone created a character who we watch slowly get paranoid and fall back into her old life, where paranoia was taught and called something else. Kate harbored a few secrets from Dexter. One big one: She had been a field agent of the CIA for 15 years, recruited right out of college, perfect for the job– dispassionate, bright, no attachments. She’d played dirty, run ops and killed people. It took two weeks of intense interrogation before she was allowed to quit.

But moving to Luxembourg? And why all of a sudden? What exactly does Dexter do that someone in the closeted banking capital of the world can’t do for himself or herself? After 15 years, distrust kept Kate from just being Mrs. Moore. She’d promised herself that she’d never investigate Dexter, after the first thorough vetting, but it seems now that Dexter too has a few secrets. Or is Kate so cynical after all these years of lying that she’ll never be normal?

Pavone’s debut novel is bright, crisp and plotted so adeptly that other writers will want to ramp up their desk time just to stay on the shelves. After 20 years caged up as a ghostwriter and book editor, Pavone broke out.

The Moores are engulfed immediately in the clubby society of expats in Luxembourg. It’s not exactly what Kate had in mind before an overly friendly Bill and Julia elbowed their way into Kate and Dexter’s life and the rest of the warning lights came on, precisely what Kate was trained to have in mind. Who are these people? Why does their apartment overlook the palace? Why doesn’t she know where Dexter works? Nothing seems to be as it appears.

Kate is either going crazy or in the middle of something big, something criminal, something that can destroy her family. She puts her old connections back together, and her life again becomes a covert operation, in either self-destruction or crime solving.

The Expats is a wonderfully written intrigue with a brilliantly sketched heroine whose instincts paint a different picture than what she sees in this idyllic life abroad, colored with shell corporations, unforgiven war crimes, and the possibility that her mild-mannered husband is masterminding the theft of 50 million euros – or is Kate herself the target for that one small indiscretion, those two quick shots she took in the presidential suite at the Waldorf-Astoria?